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A conversation with Joel Beeke

photo: Michelle DeBella-Bharath

BENYOLA: Can you please summarize or clarify your position on English translations of the Bible? Do you advocate the exclusive use of the King James Version of the Bible?

BEEKE: Behind every translation of the Bible stands the original text from which that translation was made. Since the early nineteenth century, scholars have been at work on the reconstruction of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Over time, many reconstructed or “critical” texts have been produced.

Sometimes the reconstruction is based upon evidence gleaned from manuscripts recently discovered by archeologists. These manuscripts are thought to be older than those already in the church’s possession, and these scholars regard them as more authentic or more reliable. Often, however, these reconstructions are based on speculation. A scholar sees a problem in the extant manuscripts, and proposes a solution according to his own lights. Scholars disagree on many of these proposed solutions or emendations of the text. More recent editions of the reconstructed text have adopted a rating system based on how much agreement or disagreement there may be on the form of a particular verse in the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures.

The King James Version, like other Reformation or Post-Reformation translations, was based on the text of the Bible as received and known in the church from earliest times. This form of the text is known as the “received text” (textus receptus) or the “ecclesiastical text.” Scholars often refer to it as the “majority text” because it is the form of the text attested by the vast majority of extant manuscripts. Reformed Christians regard it as the form of the text that was “immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages” (WCF, 1.7).

No translation is perfect, but the King James Version is an outstanding translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures based on the ecclesiastical text, that is, the text of Scripture as received and known by the Reformers. That fact alone should make it required reading for Reformed Christians.

After more than one hundred years of proposed alternatives, the KJV remains the standard of comparison for all other English versions. Read with attention, intelligence and faith, the KJV still serves all the purposes for which English-speaking Christians need a translation of the Holy Scriptures. But it must be said that other English translations are valuable as helps to reading the KJV with more understanding and profit. Readers will also find much help in reading translations of the Bible in other languages, such as the Dutch Staten Bijbel or Luther’s German Biebel, and many other versions, ancient and modern. Recently, I worked with several colleagues for five years here at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary to produce the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible. In the notes below the KJV text, this study Bible provides the modern equivalent of any archaic word, which should be a great help to those who occasionally stumble when reading such words.

Moreover, this study Bible — rather surprisingly — is the first in which the notes that accompany the KJV text are thoroughly Reformed in their theology. Nearly all other KJV study Bibles have Arminian or Dispensational notes. Then too, this study Bible includes several major takeaway thoughts at the end of each chapter under the rubric, “Thoughts for Personal and Family Worship,” which is unique and has been very well received. With this combination of helps, no English reader should have much difficulty reading the KJV.

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